It’s easy to perceive Dallas Green as a natural-born songwriter: he began working at it when he was a teenager in high school, has gone on to produce acclaimed music for two concurrent, polar projects and even took home a Juno in 2009 for Songwriter of the Year. First known as the singer/guitarist for hardcore band Alexisonfire, the St. Catharine’s native shook up expectations in 2005 by releasing acoustic material under alias City and Colour that was perceptibly softer and more vulnerable than anyone could have anticipated. Just hours before the break up of Alexisonfire is announced, Dallas explains how taking the hard road to Little Hell has made him so proud and why – even after achieving a number one debut – he’s still struggling to write his best song yet.
How did Osheaga go?
It was good. We had a shorter set than usual because of bands going on late and staying on late. Someone had to take one for the team and we were that band. That always happens at festivals.
A review of your set by the Montreal Gazette said that it ‘looks (and sounds) like a young Dallas might have had those Hip records within reach as a kid…’
Well, yeah…Gord Downie came out and sang with us…but I mean, as a Canadian music fan, how can you not have The Tragically Hip records in your collection, you know? I was born in 1980, so it’s like it’s in my DNA. As a kid at that time it’s just what you did – you listened to The Tragically Hip.
What about your current record Little Hell makes you the most proud?
The whole thing. I’m proud it was recorded on tape; I’m proud that it’s just me and a couple other people singing, and that there are no computers or Auto-Tune. It’s just songs that I wrote myself and played, and that makes me proud. I’m happy about how the songs came out.
Will you find it anticlimactic to go back to digital now that you’ve done it the hard way?
It’s funny that you refer to it as the hard way because that’s the way everyone did it for so long. It should be referred to as the normal way, and using computers as the easy way. It was frustrating at times…you want to move along as fast as you can because time is money as they say, but if you’re in it for the right reasons then tape is the way to go. The sound benefits from the warmth – at least the songs I’m writing anyway.
Has songwriting always come naturally to you?
It’s something that has always come to me, but not naturally. I constantly work on it and I will always work on it. I struggle with it… but the way to get better at it is to always be struggling with it, to always question it and to always try to be better at it.
Do you ever second-guess your work?
Every day (laughs). Every time a record comes out I wonder if it’s good enough.
A record is like a tattoo, isn’t it? It’s a huge commitment because once its there, its there.
Well, I’ve got a lot of tattoos (laughs) so I know what you mean. I’m just that way. I don’t have the utmost faith in myself, so there’s always that ‘what if?’ But you can’t analyze everything forever. I just try to get to the point where I can release it and be happy to get it out of my hands, and hope that people understand what I’m going for.
And if they don’t?
If they don’t then they don’t and that’s music. It’s personal.
But Little Hell was very well received; it debuted at number one on the Canadian chart.
Yeah, it was great but I try not to focus on things like that too much. If you start getting your hopes up, then that’s what you’re always depending on. Next time, if it doesn’t debut at number one, does that mean I didn’t do as well? I take it with a grain of salt. I appreciate the reception and appreciate that people are interested but I also realize that there will come a day when people aren’t as interested as they are now. I think I just try to focus on writing the best songs that I can possibly write and hope for the best. That’s it.
Next week, Green reveals what both Alexisonfire and City and Colour mean to him, the unreleased material he’s been toying with for the past decade and the good, the bad and the awful that have made him the artist he is today.
*Originally published under ‘Interviews’ on MyTelus.com.